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Birmingham 2022… toast to Nigeria’s golden women

By Gowon Akpodonor
13 August 2022   |   4:15 am
Competing for medals at a major sporting event is like a soldier fighting in a warfront. He is either advancing or retreating.

[FILES] Gold medallists Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha pose after the women’s 4x100m relay final at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day ten of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Competing for medals at a major sporting event is like a soldier fighting in a warfront. He is either advancing or retreating.

Eight years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, Team Nigeria won 11 gold, 11 silver, and 14 bronze medals. Nine of the gold medals came from men. That was at the 2004 Commonwealth Games. But in 2018 edition of the Games held in the Gold Coast, Australia, the number of gold medals won by Nigeria dropped to nine and the women accounted for six of them. Of the total 24 medals Nigeria got in 2018, the women won 14.

Team Nigeria went to the Gold Coast with a strong 90-member contingent and finished in the ninth position. The total number of medals (nine gold, nine silver, and six bronze medals) was seen as a downturn from the 11 gold medals won at the 2014 Games in Glasgow.

This time in Birmingham, England, Team Nigeria recorded its best performance ever at the Games, winning 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals. All the 12 gold medals came from women.

Team Nigeria went to the 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham unsung but returned as hero. But for the spectacular performance of the female athletes, the Nigeria national anthem would not have been heard throughout the Games. The women athletes made it to happen on 12 occasions.

Tobi Amusan –100m Hurdles
The reigning world champion is now the Commonwealth Games champion. The 26-year-old won the 100m hurdles in 12.30 seconds, setting a new Games record.

Nigeria’s Ese Brume poses with the score board after setting a new Commonwealth record in the women’s long jump final athletics event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day ten of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, central England, on August 7, 2022. (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)

Ese Brume – Long Jump
Brume maintained her enviable record of getting a medal in every tournament where she has represented Nigeria since she broke into limelight in 2014. She won gold in Birmingham with a 7.00meters leap, a new Commonwealth Games Record.

Women’s 4x100m Relay
The quartet of Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Grace Nwokocha won gold in a new African record of 42.30 seconds.

Mercy Genesis Miesinnei (50 kg)
Genesis, 24, moved up to the 50kg weight class after winning gold at the 2015 All African Games.

Blessing Oborududu – Wrestling (68kg).
The Olympic silver medalist, 33, successfully defended her Commonwealth Games gold medal, which she won for the first time in 2018 in the Gold Coast, Australia.

Odunayo Adekuoroye – Wrestling (57kg).
Adekuoroye won gold for the second time in the Commonwealth Games to make up for her disappointment at Tokyo Olympics.

Rafiatu Folashade Lawal – Weightlifting (59kg)
Lawal, 25, has four gold medals from international tournaments, beginning with the African Games in Rabat, Morocco in 2019; the 2021 African Championship and now gold at her first Commonwealth Games.

Adijat Olarinoye – Weightlifting (55kg)
Olarinoye, 23, followed up her silver at the World Wrestling Championship in Tashkent, with her first Commonwealth Games gold.

Folashade Oluwafemiayo – Para Powerlifting (75kg)
Oluwafemiayo, 37, won a gold medal in the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo. She also has gold medals from the World Championships in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

Eucharia Iyiazi – F55-57 Shot Put
At 48, she is Team Nigeria’s oldest member, and she began her gold medal journey at Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She has bronze medals from London Olympic Games in 2012, Rio 2016, and Tokyo in 2020.

Chioma Onyekwere – Shot Put
Onyekwere, 28, was disappointed with her 21st-place finish at the World Championships in Oregon, USA, but she more than made up for it with a gold medal in Birmingham, with a throw of 61.70m. Her career-best throw is 63.30m.

Goodness Nwachukwu – Discus Throw
Nwachukwu, 23, won gold at the Commonwealth Games after winning gold at the 2021 Tunis WPA Grand Prix. She also broke her previous world record of 32.95m by setting a new one of 36.56m.

Favour Ofili (Silver 200m)
Ofili capped what was a wonderful day for Team Nigeria on the last day of athletics event in Birmingham, securing the silver medal in Women’s 200m at the Alexander Stadium.

Iyiazi celebrates after clinching the gold medal….yesterday

Ofili, who could not feature in the 100m event having tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival from her base in the United States, ensured she did well enough for a podium finish in the 200m before she helped the 4x100m team to win the gold last Sunday. It was the second such medal Nigeria has won in 200m event after Mary Onyali, who ran 22.35 seconds to place second behind Australia’s Cathy Freeman in 1994.

Apart from the gold medalists, majority of the athletes that won silver and bronze for Team Nigeria at Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are also women.

For about a decade, Nigerian athletics became a one-athlete show, with the hope of winning medals at major championships solely on the shoulders of Blessing Okagbare.

She was getting all the accolades from both her state, Delta, and the Federal Government until things later got into her head.

In 2014, Ese Brume came with a bang, winning gold medal for Team Nigeria at Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland. It was her first major competition at senior level. Since then, Brume has become one of the most reliable stars at major events. She was Nigeria’s only athlete that got to the final of her event at Rio 2016 Olympics and at the last Olympics Games in Tokyo, Brume won a bronze to become the first Nigerian to win an Olympics medal in athletics in 13 years.

On March 22 this year, Brume won Nigeria’s only medal, a silver, at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, leaping to a new Personal Best of 6.85m. She got a silver medal at the World Championship in Oregon, United States before winning Nigeria’s 12th gold medal last Sunday in Birmingham.

Many Nigerians may have forgotten the ill treatment that was meted out to Brume in 2018, when she was denied the opportunity of defending her Commonwealth Games title at the Gold Coast, Australia, by the former AFN board led by Shehu Gusau. She was left out of the list of 28 athletes for the Games.

After Team Nigeria failed to win a single medal at the London 2012 Olympics Games, the former Technical Director of the AFN, Commodore Omatseye Nesiama (rtd), launched ‘Project Rio 2016,’ a two-pronged approach to identifying athletes under the development and performance pathways.

“It contained the strategy to classify every athlete; the ‘Adopt an Athlete’ initiative that the current Sports Minister has pursued with vigour,” Nesiama told The Guardian yesterday.

According to Nesiama, who is NNPP senatorial candidate for Delta South for the 2023 election, the Project Rio 2016 document also talked about establishment of training camps with qualified coaches to be supported with funding based on the classification of the athletes.

“There was also the aspect of anointing mentors from among retired athletes. Specifically, it stated that there must be a clear alignment of the AFN’s operational plan with the ministry’s strategic plan. Today, more of the female athletes have been more consistent in their performance and so gotten better management packaging.

“The AFN Technical Committee needs to carry out a re-assessment and re-categorisation of our male athletes to determine their true level in the performance system scale. This is what would help to ascertain the kind of support system that would be suitable for a consistent and enhanced performance. A dedicated performance team in conjunction with the High Performance Centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State would be needed to handle this effort.

“I mentioned the need to have a dedicated Athletes’ Development Fund that would be reimbursable. The idea of the fund is to have a quick intervention ability to address any pressing issue pending the formal approval and release of statutory budgetary provisions. This will ensure funds are readily available to run planned and approved programmes in a timely manner,” Nesiama, who is AFN’s board member, stated.

On why female athletes are taking strong command of Nigeria’s sports, the athletes’ representative on the AFN board, Henry Okorie, said: “The telling tales of the golden Geese seems to be eclipsing the shine of Nigerian male athletes. It will be an antithesis of the law of natural selection to ascribe any sort of genetic or morphological advantage to our women. The trend, which was evident across sports, is of peculiar significance, and will set subsequent team selections on a gender compromise.

“Invariably, the male athletes seem to have very serious livelihood questions on their minds, which I believe have heavy tolls on them. My fear remains that this trend might not be changing anytime soon if sports in Nigeria continued to be administered in recent manners.”

After winning the 100m hurdles gold medal and helping the women’s 4x100m relay to capture a gold last Sunday, golden girl, Tobi Amusan said: “I’m glad to have defended my Commonwealth Games title with two games record in the process. Never give up on yourself. Just stay focused on the Lord, on your craft and He will never fail you. I’m a testimony of His greatness.”

Amusan ran a Games record of 12.30second, becoming the first world champion to win gold and the first Nigerian athlete to achieve the same feat.

For the President of the Wrestling Federation of Nigerian, Daniel Igali, the journey to success in Birmingham did not start overnight. “We have been planning and will continue to plan ahead of major championship,” he said. “What the wrestlers need is proper funding from the government.”